Midway through 2020, Alex O’Connor felt like he had to get out. The artist trading as Rex Orange County was done with the claustrophobia and frustrations of lockdown. So, once restrictions allowed, he got in the car with a friend and left the UK for Amsterdam, intending to spend a couple of days smoking and hanging out with Dutch singer-songwriter Benny Sings. As they had done on Rex’s breakthrough track “Loving Is Easy” in 2017, the pair ended up making music together, crafting the warm pop of “KEEP IT UP.” “It’s probably very inspired by feeling like I didn’t want to keep it up and didn’t feel very good,” O’Connor tells Apple Music. “So I wanted something motivational, some kind of an affirmation.” It was such a rejuvenating experience that he returned later in the year, spending another 10 days shaping the rest of his fourth album with Benny Sings as co-producer. “He’s an incredibly productive force,” says O’Connor. “Every day, it’s like four or five ideas. His choice of chords, his instrumentation, the sense, his vocals, his melodies, everything—I love his music. We’re cut from the same cloth.” Their union forged a set of songs that amp up the orchestral flourishes in Rex’s music (he was listening to a lot of Romantic-era classical while making the record), and just as wanderlust had taken him to Amsterdam in the first place, there’s a restlessness discernible throughout. “THE SHADE” finesses his blend of confessional bedroom soul and melodic soft rock, but “IF YOU WANT IT” drags that formula to the club on a bed of bone-rattling synths. “WORTH IT,” meanwhile, suggests Bond-theme aspirations with its grand strings and crisp beats. Rex is equally unseated in his heart and head. Love is a source of both celebration (“AMAZING”) and anxious uncertainty (“THE SHADE”). And if the frustrating inertia of the pandemic era hangs heavy on the Tyler, The Creator collaboration “OPEN A WINDOW,” a moment of life-affirming clarity pokes through the title track. It’s just the ups and downs of existence—a duality reflected in an album title that can be read as a blithe brush-off or a sincere plea. “That’s precisely the point,” he says. “It’s both, and I seem to swing between both. I’m always two sides of everything. There’s been many, many times where I’ve thought I don’t care—when I’m feeling positive and when I’m feeling negative. But there were way more times where I’ve been thinking, ‘Who really cares? I wanna know who cares.’ I do care about what people think. I care about what I do. I’m doing it for a reason.” Ultimately, WHO CARES? is the sound of creative doors opening, an overture to further musical adventures. “My favorite albums are when artists really change it up,” O’Connor says. “This feels like one side, but I’d want people to know that beyond WHO CARES?, there’s a whole other side that I’m working on that’s very, very exciting.”

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